Moments ago, I walked by the desk of a colleague, Casey Clark. Casey is a remarkable man – a video golf instructor, a juggler of home repair tools and the organizer of the only NFL Elimination Pool that provides email pool updates peppered with Shakespearean quotes.
Casey and I occasionally talk golf – he’s a real golfer and I’m a hacker – and as is my wont I popped into his office, picked up his putter, and began rolling putts across the carpet.
“Case,” I said, “We haven’t talked about Tiger yet. Do we have anything to add to this subject that hasn’t already been covered?”
“You know,” he said, leaning back, “I’ve been thinking of Kathy Whitworth.”
I stopped mid-putt. Casey is a man of great erudition – the man uses quotes from Macbeth to tweak someone who picked the Steelers in an Elimination Pool for crying loud – so I was surprised he brought up a woman I presumed was one of Tiger’s Back Nine.
“Is that the one from California?” I asked.
“No, no, no. Kathy Whitworth has the record for Tour victories, with 88. I assume she had reconciled herself to the fact that her record would fall to Tiger, but now? Who knows? Maybe the old girl will keep her record.”
Among other things, Mr. Clark is the former editor of Golf for Women magazine, so he knew whereof he spoke. Kathy Whitworth has the record for tour victories, albeit of the LPGA variety. Sam Snead is first on the men’s list with 82. Jack Nicklaus has 73 and Tiger has 71.
Of course, the record most golf fans know about is 18 – the number of majors won by Jack Nicklaus, the Golden Bear. Can Tiger catch Kathy, Jack, and Sam?
I’m not as classy as Casey, so I mused that Tiger has just, cold turkey, given up the two things that had seemingly taken up nearly all his waking hours and provided most of his joy: golf (voluntarily) and sex (involuntarily). I’m not sure if this will save his marriage, but it definitely won’t help his chances of catching the Golden Bear. Let’s go to the stats.
This is Freetime, and when Freetime talks sports, it talks numbers. And here are some numbers.
Tiger just completed his age 34-season with 14 majors. Jack, at the same age, had 12.
But Jack had a big year at age 35, winning the Masters and the PGA in 1975. After that, age seems to have caught up and the wins came much more slowly. Over the next four years, his age 36-39 years, he won only one major, the 1978 British Open. He then had a huge 1980, his age 40-season, winning the U.S. Open and the PGA. It appeared he would never win another major until his stunning Masters win in 1986, at age 46. 18 was the new standard.
As for Tiger, he is coming off his first Major-less year since his age 29-season. He is still, clearly, the best player in golf, and had a remarkable season coming off knee surgery. But to be shut out in your age 34 season while chasing Jack is costly. If he is shut out again in 2010 - either due to self-imposed exile, distracted play, or the sheer difficulty of winning Majors - he and Jack will be tied at 14 at age 35. And who knows what the future will hold?
It should be noted that winning Majors after age 35 has proven very difficult. Tom Watson won 8 Majors, including 5 from 1980 to 1983 - but at age 33 he was done. Arnold Palmer, after a similarly torrid run from 1960-63, won the Masters at age 34 and never won again.
Tiger has lost a lot since Thanksgiving. His reputation, some sponsorship dollars, and possibly his marriage. What we won’t know for several years is whether or not he lost the chance to catch the Golden Bear, and thus the opportunity to be known as the Greatest Golfer Ever.
Or as Casey said, quoting the Bard, "Oh judgement, thou art fled to brutish beasts and men have lost their reason!"